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When it comes to B2B commerce, many organizations aren’t measuring the true impacts of digital transformation. As we discussed last week on the Insite blog, organizations often apply a technology solution to existing traditional processes which can create misalignment with changing customer experiences. In addition, this approach fails to realize the gains in efficiency and worker productivity that can be achieved through the proper implementation of a fully unified B2B commerce environment.

Although the solution may be technology-based, the real answer to driving significant metrics through eCommerce is a human one.

The People of B2B are essential to fully connecting the commerce ecosystem.

When implemented successfully, the customer experience is transformed by a new, hybrid model of commerce that is emerging for manufacturers and distributors.  Each role within that experience should also be experiencing dramatic, dynamic improvements.

In this blog of our People of B2B series we examine a role that may be behind the scenes, but nevertheless is crucial to commerce – the B2B researcher.  Most B2B researchers are still viewed as office-bound, desktop users, a characterization that is fast becoming obsolete. It’s important to understand a few important characteristics about B2B researchers first, so we can understand the opportunities that exist for them within B2B commerce and digital transformation.

We already know that online search has changed the manner in which most researchers work. For example, a study by Google surveyed more than 3,000 B2B researchers and found that they typically conduct 12 searches on average before going to a specific brand’s site. Also, over a third of B2B researchers search for product name or capability, not by looking for a specific manufacturer or distributor.  In addition, nearly half of those surveyed reported that they discovered entirely new brands simply from using a search engine.

It’s no surprise that generational shifts are changing the manner in which B2B researchers work.  According to the same study (aptly titled B2B Path to Purchase), these People of B2B not only regularly use their mobile devices for search, over a third download information via smartphone or tablet as well, and this trend is rapidly accelerating.

What this means is that mapping a new, unified B2B commerce system to traditional processes will ignore some potential gains in productivity, and even create a misfire by not mapping to the actual way B2B researchers often work today. So what’s important to a B2B researcher?  A B2B commerce system has to handle specific needs including:

  • Sample orders for complex goods that may be part of a larger industrial environment with customized specifications, like those working in the automotive industry
  • Price requests that may to be aligned with previously negotiated contracts and procurement arrangements. Conversely, B2B researchers may request prices as an entirely new customer, after finding the brand based on generic search queries.
  • Product information and custom catalog requests specific to the customers’ unique needs within one specific buying scenario.

It’s also important to understand that different B2B researchers have different needs in all of the above categories. A researcher looking for finished goods, for example, will conduct different research than a contractor needing a part on a jobsite. Different product research also requires different levels of information and research. Research needed to find the right component to repair a furnace will differ widely from the data required to select a specific medical product.   A heating technician will need specific information about parts sent directly to his or her mobile device in real time. A subject matter expert (SME) may be focused more on research that helps provide the statistics needed to support a larger purchase. And a buyer may have specific criteria that funnels choices into the correct selection, and that may even happen via algorithm rather than human analysis.

Although the role of B2B researcher may have unique requirements that, like the rest of B2B commerce, vary widely based on a multitude of factors, three primary requirements must exist in order for digital transformation to effect strong increases in productivity:

  1. The commerce environment must be easy to navigate.
    Common B2B research processes like custom catalogs, research downloads, pricing and others have to be delivered “out of the box” when choosing an eCommerce solution. If that holds true, the customization that occurs will support the unique needs of each B2B researcher’s particular scenario within the buying process making their tasks more efficient and their efforts more productive.
  2. The mobile component has to have full B2B commerce capability, it cannot be merely a responsive site.
    Studies show that millennials are filling B2B research positions at increasing rates. This generation of workers demands a mobile experience that is at least as robust as the desktop one, if not more
  3. If the commerce environment is truly unified, data both requested and generated by the work of the B2B researcher must be incorporated into the enterprise.
    That can mean anything from integrating price information with the ERP, or providing transparent product pricing and specifications outside of a login to attract new B2B researchers.

When a B2B commerce solution supports the basic functions of B2B research right out of the box, time is available for customizations that can map to the true buyers’ journey where this role is concerned. Understanding how B2B researchers work as part of a unified commerce environment is the first step to realizing productivity gains for the buyer, and lower the costs of sales for the seller.

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